Barber: A's find their long-ball identity in 5-4 win against Rangers
OAKLAND — The A’s returned to the world on Saturday evening. The shape-shifters who had assumed their identities for three games were gone, and the real, flesh-and-blood Athletics were back in action at the Oakland Coliseum.
Mark Canha signaled their return in the second inning when he met an Adrian Sampson slider just below his knees and drove it over the fence in left field. It was just one run. A solo homer, as we say. But it was more than a 1-0 lead over the visiting Texas Rangers. It was reaffirmation of who the A’s are.
“We hit homers,” manager Bob Melvin said after his team’s 5-4 win. “It’s what we do.”
It is. These A’s are sluggers. They are long-ball hitters. They are joggers around the bases, the worthy successors to Reggie and Bando, to the Bash Brothers and the Moneyball crushers.
The A’s are now 35-13 this season when hitting multiple homers. They are 21-11 when they hit a single home run, and a hopeless 2-23 when failing to clear the fences. OK, so every Major League Baseball team gives itself an advantage when it hits a home run. But for the 2019 A’s, going deep isn’t merely a good idea. It’s vital to winning.
That 2-23 mark in homer-less games? Compare it to the Giants, who are 14-22 this year when they stay in the yard. Not a great record, but the Giants have something around a 40% chance of winning in those situations. They are built to win some small-ball squeakers. The A’s are not.
Fortunately for Oakland manager Bob Melvin, his bats are rarely quiet for long. The A’s longest homer-less streak this season is three games. They’ve done it three times, most recently on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. They lost all three of those games, including two to the Rangers here.
“Anytime it’s like that, it’s almost like everyone’s in the dugout: ‘This is the at-bat it’s coming. No, this is the at-bat it’s gonna happen,’” right fielder Chad Pinder said. “Because one through nine (in the order), we’re capable of doing that.”
In this case, the at-bat led off the bottom of the second, when Canha made sure the drought did not reach four games. And his blast opened the barn door. Sampson left a 2-0 slider over the plate in the third inning, and Marcus Semien put it into the left-field seats for a 2-0 lead. Matt Chapman turned a not-so-sinking sinker into a two-run shot in the fifth inning. Then Ramon Laureano skied a pitch onto the stairs beyond the left-field wall in the sixth for a 5-0 lead that would prove absolutely necessary in a one-run win.
Laureano, who had a history of beef with Sampson, watched his drive with true admiration and had some words for the pitcher, who walked toward Laureano as he rounded the bases and had to be ordered back to the mound by first-base umpire Dan Iassogna. The A’s spilled out of their dugout, led by an angry Canha, who had been plunked by Sampson two innings after he broke the scoreless tie.
Later, in the bottom of the eighth, Texas relief pitcher Rafael Montero hit Laureano on the upper arm. Benches and bullpens emptied onto the field and Montero was immediately ejected, though there were no fisticuffs.